Our History, Pioneers in Oncology

Dr. MortonIn 1991, the John Wayne Cancer Institute launched a successful affiliation with Saint John’s Health Center and opened in Santa Monica, California. Combined with the exceptional quality of Saint John’s medical staff and hospital, a unique community-based cancer research and training institute was formed, outstanding in the areas of translational research and the treatment of solid tumors including surgical oncology, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Leading this remarkable charge was the late Donald L. Morton, M.D., a larger than life presence who was born in a rural, coal-mining town in West Virginia. His persistent, scientific questioning of the role of the immune system in fighting cancer led to many advances throughout his decorated career.

The John Wayne Cancer Institute changed its name to Saint John’s Cancer Institute on January 1, 2021.

Donald Morton, M.D., advancements include:

  • Development of the sentinel lymph node biopsy technique for melanoma and breast
  • First successful use of immunotherapy in human malignancy
  • Received one of the largest National Cancer Institute grants awarded to a single clinical cancer study (26.8 million five-year grant)
  • Designed and ran two international, multicenter landmark surgical trials, MSLT –I and MSLT – II
  • Authored over 1,000 publications
  • Trained over 150 surgical oncologists


Recognized throughout the world for surgical excellence, the Saint John’s Cancer Institute attracts some of the most talented researchers and physicians that provide personalized patient care.

Learn more about our nationally ranked team of cancer experts today by visiting their bios.

Saint John's Cancer Institute - Care Teams and Scientists

Collaborative Research

Fundamental, innovative research on the biology of cancer at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute provides the foundation of knowledge on which treatment and cures are built, here and at institutions worldwide. The Institute is home to bold collaborative research initiatives as well as a strong commitment to training and mentoring the next generation of cancer scientists and surgeons.

Now the Saint John’s Cancer Institute has expanded its fight against cancer to many different diseases, including urologic, thoracic, endocrine, gynecologic, and neurologic cancers. The translational research, surgical, and oncologic teams have quadrupled over the past three years as we continue to fight the battle with cancer.

Dr. Morton performing surgery


The Institute benefits from continuous interaction between its world-renowned researchers and physicians who are involved in the day-to-day diagnosis and treatment of patients with a wide variety of cancers. The distance from bench to bedside is only a few steps at the Institute.

The Institute serves cancer research and treatment worldwide through its unique tissue bank and accompanying database, as well as the Surgical Oncology Fellowship Program.